Otaku Obsession: Aquarion - Complete Series Part One

Introduction
FUNimation's release of the 2005 Shoji Kawamori series Aquarion could set a new standard for the American anime industry. Whereas most 26 episode TV series are usually released in 6-7 DVD volumes, FUNimation is experimenting by releasing the series in two 13 episode box sets. The first set, now available, collects 13 episodes into a three disc box set.

Story
In the world of Aquarion, humans were cruelly ruled 12,000 years ago by the Shadow Angels of Atlandia. However, things changed when a Shadow Angel named Apollonius betrayed his kind and fought for the humans, driving the Shadow Angels away and into deep slumber. Twelve millennia later, the Shadow Angels awaken from their slumber and set off the apocalyptic Great Catastrophe. Now, the Shadow Angels regularly send out Cherubim mecha to capture humans so that they can be harvested for their "prana" energy. Now, only the mysterious organization Deava stands against them, using recently excavated "vector machines" that can combine into various configurations of the robot Aquarion.

The series takes place 11 years after the Great Catastrophe, with Deava members Silvia and Pierre searching for a person who may be the reincarnation of the Solar Wing, Apollonius. What they find instead is Apollo, a feral young man who disgusts Silvia. But during a Cherubim attack, Apollo shows that he is an Element (pilot) and is capable of using Aquarion. This creates problems for Silvia, who as the reincarnation of Apollonius' lover Celiane would rather believe that the real incarnation of Apollonius is her brother, Sirius (yes, she has a major brother complex). Not surprisingly, Apollo is taken in by Deava to be trained as an Element, but naturally his feral nature and crude behavior make it difficult for him to get along with everyone, despite his piloting skills.

One of the things this series is instantly recognized for is its unique gattai (combination) sequences. When the three vector machines combine, the pilots have reactions that are basically orgasms. This joke is played up in a later episode, when a bunch of females are talking about what their "first time" was like, and a miscommunication with two gattai virgins creates confusion as to whether they're talking about gattai or sex. As time passes, Apollo begins to work better with his Element teammates, and we learn that the Shadow Angels intend to use the Solar Wing for their own purposes, to bring back the Tree of Life.

Video
As a 2005 TV series, Aquarion looks nice, especially since it's in 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The show's color palette is pretty diverse, and the CG mecha blend in quite well with the regular backgrounds. For the record, I watched this upscaled to 720p on a Sony PS3.

Audio
Aquarion comes in two flavors: Japanese 2.0 stereo, and English 5.1 surround. For the purpose of this review, I watched the show in Japanese, but the English track sounds pretty good too. As is usually the case, the music for this series stands out, as it's composed by Yoko Kanno. It's a bit reminiscent of her work on Escaflowne, but with a bit more of a modern flair.

Extras
The series features quite a few extras, all of which are located on Disc 3. The first extra is a 6 minute interview with director Shoji Kawamori, where he discusses the process in creating the show, including location scouting in Spain and his work in creating the Aquarion with sculpted models and Lego bricks. Next up is an 18 minute presentation from the Tokyo International Anime Fair 2005, which took place before the show's premiere. The presentation features Kawamori, along with voice actors Takuma Terashima (Apollo), Sanae Kobayashi (Reika) and Hiromi Satou (Rena). It's basically EPK material, with the voice actors discussing bits about their characters and the nature of the show. Since this sort of extra is pretty rare on an R1 DVD, it's nice to see even if it's just press junket stuff. The next extra is a set of four clips called Tsugumi's "All About CG!" Narrated by character Tsugumi Rosenmeier, the clips briefly profile Solar Aquarion, Aquarion Luna, Aquarion Mars and the Cherubim. The extras are rounded out by clean opening/ending sequences, as well as several FUNimation trailers.

Conclusion
Given Kawamori's past with shows like Macross and Escaflowne, there's an obvious attraction for a show like Aquarion. But that's not to say the show is not without its fair share of problems. The first two episodes are a bit rough, and they might turn off some viewers since they throw out just about every cliche common in modern mecha shows: catastrophic world-changing event, mysterious organization with robot, rebellious protagonist (Apollo), uptight girl with brother complex (Silvia), arrogant pretty man (Sirius), laid back playboy (Pierre), klutzy nerdy girl (Tsugumi), mysterious commander who speaks in riddles (Fudo) and the hot older female scientist (Sophia). It also doesn't shy away from using the Cherubim-of-the-Week formula. Still, despite these cliches, Aquarion becomes enjoyable as it settles into its rhythm by the third or fourth episode. Most of the episodes in the box set focus on Apollo slowly learning to work with teammates like Silvia, Pierre and Sirius, but more details about the story (and the Shadow Angels) emerge on episodes 12 and 13. In the interviews on the disc, Kawamori said he was trying to go for something different with this series. It's clear that he's going for something similar to Escaflowne by combining mecha with mythology, but at the midpoint it's not quite clear how well Aquarion is succeeding at doing that. Despite a rough start, Aquarion slowly builds up its characters and takes an interesting turn in the last two episodes on the set, which could mark a new direction in the story. At the very least, it builds enough anticipation to seek out the next box set.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5 stars